Why You (& All Women) Need to Lift Weights…Starting Today

Written by: on Friday, January 16th, 2015
Woman lifting weight

All women should be lifting weights for strength, balance, bone building, and a dose of confidence.

If you’re like most women, you probably head to the gym for a power workout—completely avoiding the weight floor. Or maybe you have a pair of handheld weights that you do some arm exercises with…when you get the chance (but you’ve been doing the same moves with the same weight for as long as you can remember).

If this sounds like you, you’re missing out on the key benefits of weight training, say experts like Paula Burger, a personal trainer based in Ft. Lauderdale. “I can’t stress the importance enough of why women—particularly as we get older—should be weight training,” says Burger. “As a woman, your body wants to lose muscle mass every year—and you gain weight because of it. Plus, your hormones are all over the place: your estrogen and testosterone [yes, even women have some] are dropping and you have to lift heavier weights, eat less, and work harder than ever to keep the weight off.”

But consistent weight training can shift the momentum—significantly. Studies conducted by Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director with the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, back this up. Westcott found that strength training two to three times a week for just two months will help women gain nearly two pounds of muscle and lose 3.5 pounds of fat. Why? As the body increases muscle mass, our fat-burning furnace (metabolism) fires up, which means you burn more calories and fat—all day long—even when you’re sitting. This is key as we get older because our metabolism slows down with every passing year—the reason you’re eating the same foods as you did years ago but now you’re gaining weight, gradually.

Miriam Nelson Book

The groundbreaking book that laid out exactly why women need strength training.

Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, author of the national bestseller Strong Women Stay Young, is a staunch proponent of women lifting weights, based on research she’s done—and continues to do through her The StrongWomen Program, a women’s national community exercise and nutrition program. Nelson found that after a year of strength training twice per week, women not only had less fat and more muscle, they also increased strength and energy dramatically, improved balance and flexibility, and prevented or reversed bone loss.

Why weight training gets such impressive bone-building results: Cells called osteoblasts are critical to maintaining bone structure; when you do weight-bearing exercise, these osteoblasts lay down new bone tissue to strengthen the points where the bone is stressed. Do regular strength training—and continually challenge yourself with heavier weights and more repetitions—and these osteoblasts continue to reinforce the bone, over and over again, reducing your risk of serious health problems like osteopenia, or low bone density; full-blown osteoporosis; and sarcopenia, or gradual loss of muscle mass. All can affect not only how you age but your quality of life, too (i.e. what’s the joy in living longer, if you’re bed bound with compound hip fractures and have little muscle strength to do daily activities?).

Kris Wilkes, 59, is a former federal prosecutor and former litigator and senior partner at an international law firm in San Diego who has experienced the body- and life-changing benefits of weight training first hand. “I was in a very demanding career, often working 16 to 18 hours a day,” explains Wilkes, who took up weight training almost 20 years ago. “I would leave work feeling exhausted. But I forced myself to exercise after work. It became a great stress reliever for me. I started to feel euphoric because I was taking care of my body—not just using my mind as I did at work.” (Exercise, both cardio and weight training, is a proven mood booster.)

woman working out with dummbells

Dumbbells are an effective first step in any weight training program, but you need to switch up your routine every six weeks to prevent your muscles from getting used to it.

But Wilkes found that while cardio did help reduce her stress, it didn’t re-shape her body as she had expected. “I’d see these girls coming out of Gold’s Gym with amazing bodies—something that we just weren’t achieving in the aerobics studio next door,” explains Wilkes, who credits that with inspiring her to get a trainer and start lifting weights. “Of all the things I’ve done over the years—yoga, Pilates, running, step classes, CrossFit—weight lifting is the one that has truly sculpted my body and changed it, for the better.” (Wilkes has become such a fan of weight lifting, she competes regularly in International Federation of Bodybuilding competitions.)

In the Gym

The scene at the World Gym in Ft. Lauderdale, where Wilkes now lives, is impressive—and to the lay exerciser, a bit intimidating. Awe-inspiring photos of bodies sculpted at the gym line the walls and top-of-the line exercise equipment fills the floor. But it’s the members themselves who draw the most stares: muscles rippling, super-fit women and men can be found pumping iron, plenty of it. Wilkes is one of them—and is right at home. “I do 60 to 90 minutes of weights followed by 30 to 40 minutes of cardio, typically the StepMill or interval running,” says Wilkes, who works out 5 to 6 days a week and is unquestionably in the best shape—and health—of her life.


Don’t get intimidated by heavy weights; work your way up to using them.

But Wilkes doesn’t just lift some heavy weights and call it a day. She plans out her course of action—something a trainer taught her early on to sculpt her body and avoid injury—working different body parts on different days. “Some days I do chest, shoulders, and biceps, followed by a leg day, and then the next day, I’ll do back and triceps,” she says. “Then, on the last day, I’ll work my abs and calves. You really have to thoroughly train the areas you’re targeting to get results.” But a trainer is key, says Wilkes: “There are so many different things you can do at the gym to build muscle—and a trainer can help you figure everything out and come up with a plan.”

Ft-Lauderdale-based Burger agrees. “You have to get out of your comfort level to see results. When you’re 50 or older, you can’t just go and do some shoulder presses and curls with 5-pound weights. You’ve got to push yourself and build up to the next level. A trainer can help you do that. I have a 75-year-old client doing step-ups with 15-pound dumbbells; she didn’t start there. She had to work up to it, but she did—and she’s doing it—and she’s getting great results.”

man lifting weights in gym

Don’t worry about bulking up like this if you lift weights; the truth is…you won’t.

“There’s a persistent myth about weight lifting and women,” explains Wilkes. “Women think that if they lift heavy weights, they’re going to bulk up and look like a guy.” That’s just not happening, she says. “As we get older and our hormone levels start to drop, women have to fight for every shred of muscle we put on. We have to work really hard for it. We’re just not physically capable of bulking up like a guy. Sure, I want to fill out sagging skin with muscle, but I also want to be able to wear a dress and not look like a football player.”

The Fountain of Youth?

For women 50+, hormones and an aging body aren’t their best friends—but weight training can turn things around, something that Maria Liza Eden Giammaria, M.D., MPH, a vein specialist—based in New York and Ft. Lauderdale—discovered firsthand. “My father was ill with cancer and I was traveling between North Carolina, where he was, and my offices. At one point, when I turned 50, I had an awakening,” she says. “I was exhausted, I wasn’t working out, I wasn’t eating healthy, and I wasn’t sleeping. I felt toxic. I needed to work on me—and because I was so busy, I had to maximize my time. I wanted to get the best results in as little time as possible.” Enter weight lifting. As Eden Giammaria got more toned, she started eating better, lost weight, felt better about herself—and had a better overall mood—and even started to feel more empowered at work. “I want to gracefully embrace the aging process,” she says, adding that weight training has helped her do this.

Fifty was also the magic number for San Diego-based Meg Kruse, a personal trainer who’s now 56. Like Wilkes, Kruse is a regular at bodybuilding competitions, but Kruse never initially believed she could ever get to that point. “A trainer came up to me one day right around the time I turned 50 and suggested that I take my weight training to the next level because I had a beautiful back,” says Kruse. “When she said that, a little voice in my head said ‘You can’t do that. You’re too old. You’ve got wrinkles. Your right boob hangs down.’ But that made me even more determined to do it.” As her muscles grew, so did her self-esteem. Says Kruse: “As a woman, when you get stronger, you get more confident. There’s no question.”

This boost in self-esteem is a common side effect of taking on a challenge like weight lifting—particularly as you get older, says Michele Kerulis, LCPC, director of Sport & Health Psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, in Chicago. “When you’re in your 50s and older, there are many body changes occurring that make seeing results in the gym extremely difficult,” explains Kerulis. “But that’s what makes setting, and achieving, goals like this that much more outstanding for women.”

Woman holding water bottle in gym

No matter what age you are, exercising—both cardio and strength training—can help you look younger.

“Having a goal to work toward keeps you young,” adds Carol Matthews, 68, a personal trainer in Ft. Lauderdale who regularly weight trains women 50+ (including women in their 80s and 90s, whom she trains in their nursing homes). And getting stronger is a goal, says Matthews, which should be on every woman’s fitness bucket list. “Every single woman should lift weights,” she says. “You’re never too old to start.” But Matthews also stresses the importance of balancing out the rest of your life, too: “Eat clean and healthy—and prep your food for the day so you have things with you—get plenty of rest, and get out there and do cardio, even if it’s walking. These all work together to help you live a strong, healthy, long life.” Kruse agrees, saying: “You need to feed your body fuel: good healthy protein [like lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans], vegetables, and healthy carbs.”

So weight training—along with living a healthy, balanced life—makes you stronger, boosts your health, and wards off disease. But there’s also a tiny bit of vanity that comes from being able to wear sleeveless dresses with ease and a boost of confidence that comes from being able to heft your own shopping bags or your suitcase, or even your grandkids, sans help. All are what keep growing numbers of women, like Wilkes and Kruse, committed to strength training. “So we’re getting older?” says Kruse. “Women who strength train are not going to break their hips and they’re not going to ride up the stairs in one of those trolley things. And we’re not going to head to the grave with a muffin top. I like to call what we’re doing aging gracefully—and actively.”

Getting Started

Looking to boost your strength and improve your health with weight training? Consistency is key. Start with a trainer (all gyms have them, or try a personal training center that can work with you—and your goals). Or gradually work your way up to a trainer with these easy strength training tips*:

Put on a walking vest. These adjustable weighted vests can be worn daily to transform your daily walks into strength-training ones.

Do body weight exercises. Push-ups are the easiest exercises to do. You need no equipment and can do them anywhere. Other good options include squats (for your legs) and crunches (for your abs).

Try resistance tubing. These stretchy, lightweight pieces of latex provide resistance (and strength training) when stretched. (Tip: the lighter the color of the tubing, the less resistance it offers.)

Do free weights (or use weight machines). Dumbbells are effective strength training tools. You can do everything from biceps curls (to strengthen the arms) and shoulder raises (to strengthen the shoulders) to weighted squats (to help boost muscle—and bone—in the legs). Weight machines at the gym are a more advanced way to build bone; a trainer can show you step-by-step how to use them.

Do 5 to 10 minutes of cardio before strength training (this warms up the muscle, helping to prevent injury). Then choose a weight or resistance level that will tire your muscles after 12 repetitions. (When you can do more than 15 reps without tiring, increase the amount of weight or resistance.) Plan to do two to three, 20- to 30-minute sessions a week, alternating days that you work on different body parts.

* Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen so you don’t get hurt.

How Much Are You Really Paying for that New iPhone?

Written by: on Sunday, September 21st, 2014
new iPhone costs

Are you being deceived by the sales people at your local AT&T or Verizon store?

A new iPhone is coming out, it seems, every second — so it’s no surprise when we find ourselves wandering into an AT&T store or Verizon store to “check out” the new phones.

This happened to me — and the result has not been pretty.

When I wandered in, I had the iPhone 4 (yes, I know…ancient in these times) — and was just checking to see how much it would be to upgrade. The “really nice” AT&T sales guy came over and said “Let’s check out your account and see what you’re eligible for.” Okay…so turns out I was “eligible” for an upgrade. I said I wasn’t interested in spending a lot on a new phone (the iPhone 5s was selling for $299 — and I didn’t think that it was necessary to upgrade for $300).

But what came next is the problem.

The AT&T sales guy said, based on my eligibility for an upgrade, I actually didn’t have to pay anything for the phone — and he could lower my monthly bill, too. Wow. I was impressed and happy that I stopped in. So I said “Yes, let’s do it.”

He worked with me on getting the phone, my contacts switched over to the new phone, etc. Then he passed me over to another sales person who had me sign the paperwork. What I knew: I was signing a contract for 2 years (typical) and I had a plan that included e-mail, unlimited texting and more. Did I carefully read the contract? No…I glanced at it and figured I had talked through everything with the sales guy. This wasn’t my first cell phone, so I honestly wasn’t expecting any surprises.

But the reality is something the sales people are not telling you upfront. It wasn’t until I got my monthly bill that the story changed.

I found out that somehow in this whole process, I had signed up for a Wireless Equipment Installment Plan and was paying a monthly fee ($28.85) towards the cost of my new phone, which…get this…was not the $299 phone cost that was advertised in the store, but $749.99!!! Somehow, I had gotten roped into paying an installment plan for my new phone with exorbitant interest charges.

There must be some mistake, I thought: I called AT&T and got through to a supervisor, Alexa, who told me that “I signed a contract so there’s nothing she can do.” And furthermore, I should have read the contract “more closely” as this information was not hidden. But I said: I was going on what the sales person told me and didn’t expect any surprises; he told me I didn’t have to pay for the phone and so I didn’t anticipate any surprises. “Well I’m sorry the salesperson told you that, but there’s nothing I can do,” she said. “You signed a contract.”

My response: “You think a salesperson is going to tell a customer that they’re actually going to be paying almost $800 for a phone that sells for $299?? You’re sadly mistaken.”

But come to find out two of my friends had this also happen to them. Check your bills (so many of us don’t) and see if you’ve been charged for an installment plan for exorbitant costs for your phone; if so, e-mail me. I’m putting together a class action lawsuit against AT&T (and maybe even Verizon—as one of my friends had this happen to her at a Verizon store).

We have a right to know exactly what we’re paying for…up front — without deceptive sales practices, which is what is going on here.

Share your stories with me at valerie@valerielatona.com!

Eat Brownies (and Still Lose Weight)

Written by: on Sunday, September 7th, 2014
Jamie Lichenstein

Trying out freshly baked brownies!

In the past 16 months, I’ve excluded sugar, dairy, gluten, carbohydrates, and red meat from my diet in an effort to lose weight—and gain much-needed confidence. (I also began to exercise five days a week.) The result: I’ve lost 40 pounds and I’ve never felt better.

During the first month of my diet I was challenged: temptations were all around, my friends didn’t understand, and amidst final exams at the end of last school year, Entenmanns cookies were the most common study snack, but I forced myself to remember why I started my diet in the first place: I felt badly about my body and wanted to change that.

Not to generalize, but I have learned that my peers, teenage girls, either eat whatever they want and don’t care—supporting the YOLO (You Live Only Once) lifestyle—or others will choose to skip eating all together, setting themselves up for serious eating disorders. So, when I decided to adopt a routine that was not similar to theirs, I was met with confusion and opposition. “Why would you do that?” They would ask. It wasn’t clear to anyone but me. This was something I had to do for myself.

After those first four weeks, the diet became more of a lifestyle: ordering chicken and veggies became natural and skipping dessert wasn’t a big deal any more. Eventually my friends stopped pressing me.

The result: I’m happier and healthier than I have ever been before, and now I get emails and texts from people all the time asking me for “weight-loss tips”.

Healthy Ingredients for Brownies

The ingredients for my favorite brownies.

With that said, I wanted to share this amazing recipe for sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free chocolate fudge brownies. They are delicious! So, I hope you enjoy these brownies and understand that just because there isn’t sugar in my diet, it doesn’t mean my life is any less sweet! (I found the recipe on this great website, sugarfreemom.com.)

P.S. Just as I was cooking these brownies, my mom said to me, “I don’t get the point of these. If you can’t have sugar, dairy, or gluten, why eat these at all?” Well, to those of us who have very restrictive diets, it is nice to often be rewarded, albeit with non-traditional desserts. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from my diet is there is always a way to enjoy yourself, but without sacrificing calories or confidence. Now, I respect myself for having such strong will power, and I feel better about my body than I ever thought I could.

Sugar, Dairy, and Gluten-Free Brownies

Just click on this recipe to enlarge…and follow!




Why I am still OBSESSED with SoulCycle

Written by: on Friday, June 27th, 2014
Indoor Cycling Class

Get ready to turn off the lights: SoulCycle classes are illuminated by candlelight, which adds to their aura.

By now, most people know about SoulCycle and their fiercely loyal pack of followers (of which, I admit, am one). Riders can be spotted from miles away with SoulCycle apparel and those telltale metallic shopping bags. Riders ‘like’ SoulCycle’s Instagram and Facebook posts religiously, enthusiastically share their success stories on the website, attend events where everyone is just as obsessed as they are, and rarely skip even just one regular cycling session (doing so has been known to provoke anxiety in even the most sane riders among us).

You definitely don’t see this kind of crazy obsessive enthusiasm in a gym. And that’s how—and why—SoulCycle (which has 29 studios across America) differs from your average workout.

The mantra of SoulCycle—which came onto the scene in 2006 thanks to founders Julie Rice and Elizbeth Cutler—is “Take your journey, change your body, find your soul”. This is what makes it unlike any other cycling studio or class. According to New York City-based rider-turned-instructor Amy Warshaw, “SoulCycle is about training your body, mind, and soul. In a city, which is all about competition, SoulCycle is about allowing yourself to be selfish during your ride. When an individual feels better about themselves they interact better with all those around them.”

Indoor Cycling

You can burn up to 500 (and sometimes more) calories in one 45-minute class.

In every 45- to 60-minute class, the instructor guides riders through steep hills, fast sprints, and arm-strengthening moves with one-, two-, three-, or five-pound hand weights. The playlists are always different—but inspiring—filling the studio with energy, power, and strength. Unlike most other cycling classes, SoulCycle promotes itself as an emotional experience that encourages self-improvement and discovery. A crystal is placed behind each instructor bike to encourage balance…a little out there, I admit, but it seems to work as there’s plenty of good energy in each class—and I always leave feeling energized and balanced.

I ride at the West 77th street SoulCycle four times a week—and yes, you could say it, I am literally obsessed just like everyone else who signs on for this workout. It makes me feel fit, healthy, strong—and happy (most likely the result of the feel-good hormones, called endorphins, that literally race through your body when you’re on a super-fast free ride).

There’s an energy, too, that makes you work harder—in both the class and in life. When you push yourself to get through a really tough ride, you just feel better about yourself. Since I started riding consistently at SoulCycle, I have a newfound sense of confidence and commitment to myself and what I can—and want to—do. Not surprising, says Warshaw, who says her favorite part of teaching is the feeling she gets when she walks into the room. “I have the opportunity to touch someone’s life,” she says, “to inspire them, make them smile, and push them harder than they ever thought possible.”

And that’s reason enough to get your butt off the couch and to class as often as possible. It’s also why—in a world where fitness fads come and go—SoulCycle is here to stay.


What Special Gifts Do You Have to Give?

Written by: on Saturday, May 17th, 2014
Young Girl Releasing Bubble Outside

Each one of us has traits that make us unique. Have you taken time to grow—and share—yours?

It was a group activity at one of those personal growth seminars. We were each given a small envelope containing five dried beans, which would symbolize five of the gifts we have to offer the world. After consideration, I identified my gifts on the outside of the envelope: Empathy, Leadership, Generosity, Persistence, and Music.

None of us had told the others what we had written, and we were to approach the other members of the group individually and ask each other in a style reminiscent of the game Go Fish for the things we were looking for. “I am looking for _______  (Love, Forgiveness, Peace, etc.). Do you have any to give me?” If the person didn’t have any of what you were looking for, you moved on.

While I didn’t find others who had what I was looking for, I was more distressed that people didn’t ask for what I had. I WANTED to share my gifts. I saw others smiling as their partner asked for what they had to give and they exchanged beans. One of my gifts is Generosity. I enjoy giving. And yet, no one asked for what I had.

How often do we do this? We have so much to offer, and yet we wait for others to see it in us, to ask us to shine our light. I know so many people (me included), who have yearned for someone to recognize our specialness, to invite us to share what we can do well.

And yet, it is our responsibility to first recognize it in ourselves, and then to find ways to share our gifts with the world. I never got to sing in the choir without first singing, and it’s only through practice and try-outs that I was ever chosen for a solo.

Each of us has something to offer the world, a unique combination of strengths and talents that is ours alone. It is through expressing them and sharing them with the world that we find our purpose and add meaning to our lives.

Are you claiming your gifts? Are you expressing them in your own unique way to serve both yourself and the world? Take some quiet time today to write down the gifts you have to offer to the world; no pressure. If you can only think of one or two—or 100!—write down whatever comes to mind.

Then, your goal over the coming weeks: come up with one or two strategies on how you can cultivate and share this gift with others. Write to me with your thoughts and questions!


How I Lost 90 Pounds & Became An Athlete!

Written by: on Monday, January 6th, 2014
Weight Loss Success Story

BEFORE: Rachel At 236 pounds, 11 weeks after giving birth.

Weight Loss Success Story

AFTER: Rachel at 144 pounds…happy, healthy, and slim.

It was eleven weeks after Rachel Shapiro Cooper, 33, had her daughter, Colbie, and she distinctly remembers the moment. “I was sitting on the couch next to my beautiful new baby and my mother in law—and all I could think about was how physically uncomfortable I was. It completely devastated me. I didn’t want to be sitting next to my beautiful family feeling this way.”

At 236 pounds, Rachel—a theatre teacher at a charter school in Newark, NJ—had reached her highest weight, ever. “When I look at that picture now, I looked enormous and sad,” she says. “My thighs are as big as the couch. It was at that moment that I said I was never ever going to feel this way ever again.”

“Changing My Mindset”

“No one sits there and says I want to be obese one day,” says Rachel, “but it happens. And it happened to me because I ignored how my body was feeling—for so long. And that’s not normal.”

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel, after, with her husband Brandon.

“Everything about your health is a choice,” she says, adding that you have the power to change your health and your weight—for the better. “For so long, I was told I was overweight when I wasn’t overweight. That was a really damaging thing. People around me created this false reality for me. I wasn’t as thin as other kids, but I wasn’t the fat kid either.”

“But then I started to believe what every one else was saying about me—and I believed I’d always be the fat kid. Then I told myself that it was okay to be chubby and I started developing these habits where I felt like I could eat more. And when I got pregnant, it got worse: I had two breakfasts because I felt like I was entitled to it.”

“But I’m done with that part of my life: I’m not going to eat more just to eat more,” says Rachel, who is now pregnant with her second child and is thinner, happier, and has more energy during this pregnancy than she ever did during her first pregnancy. “I’m proud to say I ran a 10K already during this pregnancy—and I felt great while I was doing it.”

“Learning About My Body”

Right after she gave birth the first time, Rachel received bad news about her health. “I found out that I was pre-diabetic; my sugar was high,” she explains. “Plus, my total cholesterol level was over 300.”

Motivational Sayings

One of Rachel’s favorite motivational sayings.

“And I thought: ‘Who have I become? I knew when I saw this picture that I couldn’t walk through life this way anymore. Before I was overweight, now I was sick and I had to get well.”

“Between being a new mom and feeling totally out of my element, I felt like some obese imposter walking around in my world in this huge unhealthy body,” she says.

After Rachel started losing weight, running, and feeling great about her body, she found a lump in her breast. “I have very dense breast tissue, but because I had been overweight, I hadn’t really known my breasts—or my body. And I thought: ‘How is it possible that I’m healthy for first time in my life and this happens? Thankfully everything turned out fine [it was fibrocystic breasts], but it’s amazing how many women are not familiar with their body and miss things like this.”

“When I was overweight, I didn’t want to know my body,” she says, explaining that so many people who are overweight feel the same way—and aren’t able to recognize bumps and lumps, aches and pains because they’re out of touch with themselves. “But I was killing myself by not wanting to know my body.”

“How I Lost the Weight”

Rachel shared the go-to strategies, below, that helped her to lose the 90 pounds (it took a year and a half)—and helped to make her a runner, too.

woman stepping on scale

You will lose pounds, says Rachel, if you address your food entitlement issues up front.

First and foremost, though, Rachel says you have to change your mindset about food. “We all have this absurd sense of entitlement about food: We tell ourselves that ‘We deserve to eat this or that’. It’s like a petulant child—and we need to remove the petulant child from weight loss,” explains Rachel. ‘This need for immediate gratification is why people are fat. We have no patience. We’re not willing to wait until another day to eat something.”

“But the truth is: If you didn’t get to eat it today, you can eat it another day,” she says. “That’s a huge part of what I had to master. There will other chances to eat that food, there will be other parties.”

The bottom line, Rachel says, is this: “If you don’t do anything to fix your weight issues, nothing will change. Taking charge of your life and your weight is completely in your hands.”

1. Make the decision to put yourself first. It’s so easy for people—particularly mothers—to put others first, says Rachel, but changing this is key to dropping pounds. “You have to retrain yourself. “I said ‘I’m going to lose weight’ and

Weight Loss Success Story after finishing a race.

Rachel—already pregnant with her second child—and Brandon after finishing her second half marathon.

‘I’m putting myself before everyone and everything’,” she says, explaining that by doing that it made her weight loss a priority. She made it a priority every week to attend Weight Watchers meetings, which were key to her success. She made it a priority to cook healthy foods and pack a healthy lunch—and snacks—for work every day. And she made it a priority to exercise.

“Now I get up at 5 am and run on the treadmill. On Saturdays and Sunday, my husband and I trade. I spend an hour and 10 minutes doing a long run and then he takes time to do it. And that’s part of my life now.”

“After making this decision to put myself first, my life completely opened up,” she says. “I was happy and completely present in my life—with my daughter, my husband, my friends, my job.”

2. Create do-able goals. “At first, I never thought I’d reach my goal,” says Rachel. “I kept trying to lose weight and would step on the scale after a week and had lost nothing. I was so depressed—which made me want to give up. I stopped caring, stopped believing. I had so much to go, I felt like it was impossible. I didn’t have faith in my body. I felt like it was broken, like it was not like other people’s. I was deeply ashamed.”

Calendar for Weight Loss

“I stopped looking at weight loss week by week—and instead looked at it over the course of 30 days,” says Rachel.

“Then my husband, my beautiful, wise, forgiving sweet husband brought me a proposal,” Rachel explains. “He thought my issues with weight loss had to do with the fear of not seeing results. I would stay on program and then not see a loss and then collapse and binge and then not see a loss and it was a vicious cycle. He knew the Weight Watchers plan was realistic and healthy (he is a doctor after all). He knew that if I could just take the pressure off of each week, I might see success and that might lead to momentum. Well, that it did! We embarked on the 30-day calendar.”

“Brandon helped me create a calendar with goals for my life on it and each day I simply stayed on program I crossed off a box and at the end of 30 days we would re-assess” she explains. “I kept going to my weekly meetings and by the end of the month I had lost 8 pounds after not losing any weight for the six months prior.”

“We kept using the calendar for 90 days and then I made it below 200 lbs. Then I noticed myself starting to feel like, ‘I may be able to do this’. “

3. Believe in everything YOU can accomplish. “I was never a runner and

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel, and her friend Marianne, after successfully completing a race.

now I run countless 4 milers, four 10Ks, and even a half marathon. There are all these lies I was telling myself,” says Rachel, who says that believing in how you want to be—not how others see you or how you saw yourself—is key to turning your life around.

4. Keep track of everything you eat. Rachel credits her local Weight

Weight Watchers Mobile App

Rachel used the Weight Watchers Mobile App to keep track of what she ate. (Available free on the iTunes app store.)

Watchers meetings, which she attended regularly, with helping her learn how much she should be eating every day— and staying motivated. “I never used to write down what I ate. Who wants to write down that you ate a quart of lo mein?” she says, explaining a key weight-loss strategy of Weight Watchers. “Now I write down everything I eat every single day. I have a Weight Watchers tracker app on my phone that I write my food in. It takes two minutes—and it keeps me accountable.”

5. Be honest about what (and how much) you’re eating. While the food tracker app helps, Rachel also relies on friends to keep her accountable. “I have a friend, Marianne, and we e-mail our food to each other every day,” says Rachel, crediting Marianne with being “instrumental” to her success.

“We follow up with each other. We send the good, the bad, and the ugly to each other. There’s no greater gift you can give yourself than absolute dead honesty. The act of being accountable and honest transforms how I relate to food now. It’s not a secret anymore. Your secrets make you sick, and I was no longer willing to stay sick.”

“Having people around you, like Marianne, who know your goals and remind you of them, even when you’ve forgotten is key,” says Rachel. “Real friends don’t tell you it’s okay when you make a poor food choice. Real friends aren’t afraid to be your ‘mirror up to nature’.”

6. Take it one meal at a time. “Don’t think about how much weight you have to lose, focus on one meal at a time. Once you get through breakfast, that’s an accomplishment. Then you can move on to the next meal,” says Rachel. “What matters is how you manage your food in each moment.”

7. Prepare for ups and downs. Know that—despite everything you’re doing—you may not lose weight some weeks, says Rachel. “Weight loss is not one of those things that accidentally happens. The scale doesn’t lie. It will take a

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel, with her friend Marianne, outside Weight Watchers, which guided her and helped her reach her goal.

while. There were weeks that I worked my butt off and I lost not one single pound. But again, I had to take the power away from immediate gratification and that feeling that ‘If I do everything I’m supposed to do, I should lose weight.’ Sometimes that just doesn’t happen. But you have to stick with it over the long haul to see the results—and you will see results.”

The Weight Watchers meetings helped Rachel with this aspect of her weight loss—as well as her entire journey. (After having reached her goal, she’s now a lifetime member.) “The Weight Watchers meetings were a place I went each week, on good weeks and bad,” she says. “It was the place where, for 30 minutes, I could brainstorm a challenge and get support. My leader, Kelly, (now my friend) and my fellow members shared in my victories and built me up when I felt like I could not keep going.”

8. Plan what you’re going to eat—before you go out. “I make a plan about food—and what I’m going to eat in social situations—and I stick to it,” says Rachel. “I determine beforehand if I’m going to have one glass of wine at a cocktail party. I write before I bite. Food is not a relationship I should be having. I want to put my emotions back into my relationships.”

“I always look at restaurant menu before going out to eat so I know what I’m going to have,” explains Rachel. “I always commit to a lean protein like seafood and sushi. And the best part: I eat it and can still leave the restaurant feeling great.”

“I mostly stay away from Mexican and Indian though because these cuisines are harder to portion out,” she says, “but nothing is off limits anymore. Generally, though, I try to stick to cuisines that are satisfying and healthy. I also have a two-drink minimum. My rule is: if I drink I’m never having dessert, and if I’m having dessert, I don’t drink.”

9. Add extra vegetables to everything. “I bulk up on veggies,” says Rachel.

Roasted Carrots and Zucchini

Every Sunday, Rachel roasts a big batch of vegetables to add to lunches, dinners, and snacks during the week.

“On Sundays, I roast a bunch of vegetables so I can chop them up and add them to meals all week long. I make sure to have lots of vegetables with every meal.”

10.  Steer clear of packaged foods. “It’s so much easier to cook things for yourself,” says Rachel. “Cooking really doesn’t take that much time—just a little bit of prep work.” For example, Rachel makes frozen white fillets of fish with puttanesca sauce. “It takes 20 minutes to cook,” she explains. Another favorite: Chicken sausage with diced veggies, sautéed with beets and mushrooms on bed of polenta. Turkey meatloaf is another go-to dish: Rachel makes a big batch on the weekends so she has enough for lunch during the week.

Communicating with your partner about your goals is so important, too, particularly when it comes to meals. Rachel credits her husband with helping her stay on track. “Brandon would find my Weight Watchers Point allowance for the day and make us romantic dinners that were delicious and good for me, too,” she explains.

“Putting it All Together”

Reaching Weight Watchers Goal

Rachel is now a lifetime member of Weight Watchers after having reached her goal.

When asked how it feels to be a Weight-Loss Success Story, Rachel had this to say: “I feel very blessed to be able to tell my story. The more you isolate yourself and tell yourself you have it all together, the worse you do. When you surrender to the fact that you need help, the more successful you are.”

“It’s okay to not be able to do it all by yourself. I was paralyzed because I never wanted to do the hard work, the soul searching.”

Weight Loss Success Story

“One of the reasons I love this picture is I’m completely in the moment with my daughter, Colbie Laia, and not worried about having it captured in a photo—which was always the case before I lost the weight,” says Rachel.

“I make no claims to be a master of this or a perfectionist. I just need to eat the right food every day. I need to drink 6 to 8 cups of water every day. And I need to work out 4 to 5 days a week.”

But the results are so worth it: “Now I get up in the morning and go to my job without worrying about what to wear or what’s going to fit. That’s so damaging to your confidence,” says Rachel, who admits to never having worn pants with zippers before. “I would always wear dresses and stockings because that’s what felt comfortable. I didn’t own a pair of jeans or black pants. In fact, I couldn’t stand buying clothes. Now I buy 6s and 8s—and they fit perfectly. I don’t have to worry about buying clothes any more.”

“Suddenly I’m the person who can manage my live and thrive and not feel like I’m drowning,” explains Rachel. “Now I don’t look at things that are hard and feel like I can’t do them. I look at things and think about how I can achieve them. That’s an amazing gift.”

Weight Loss Success Story

Rachel at her sister’s wedding—radiating happiness and confidence.

“I was at the mercy of food for 30 years,” she says. “Enough is enough. The way I look at it: Food is either going to nurture and sustain me or it’s going to bring me back to a place where I never want to go again. It’s my choice. And I’ve decided I’m not going back to that place ever again.”

“But weight is just the beginning. What I learned about myself and my potential and the resilience of the human spirit has honestly transformed my entire perspective,” says Rachel. “I am an athlete. Together with my husband, we race through 5ks and 10ks and a half marathon. I’ve crossed the finish line in my healthy, strong body that birthed my daughter, that danced at my wedding, that crumbled in sadness and hopelessness, and that healed itself from a lifetime of pain. I am so incredibly grateful and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”


Cheating & Lying in America: Where has all our morality gone?

Written by: on Friday, January 18th, 2013
Lance Armstrong on a bike

Lance Armstong: the newest face of cheating in America

I remember the first, and only, time I ever cheated. I was in third grade—of a Catholic school, no less—and a friend in my class had put the idea in my head: “You can write the answers on your hand for the test. You don’t need to study.” I can’t remember what was going through my head then, but I tried it. And the nuns caught me (I got detention and a painful rapping across my knuckles with a ruler). I got spanked by my dad, too, and punished at home for who knows how long.

It was enough to make an impression on me that cheating was something I should never, ever do.

Now that my son is in the third grade, it’s something I talk to him about often: you never cheat, you never lie. You always tell the truth.

So it gets me thinking: why is our country rampant with lying scandals? There’s Lance Armstrong, who is now (finally!) admitting that he won his seven Tour de France medals thanks to one of the “most sophisticated doping programs ever” (despite his years and years of denials otherwise). What a huge disappointment. And there’s the Notre Dame tackler Manti Te’o, who has now allegedly made up the existence of a girlfriend, who died a horrific death (both are supposedly untrue, although how the lies got spread is still being investigated). The public feeling about both Lance and Manti: “He’s overcome so much to get this far.” (We do love a good overcome-at-all-odds success story in this country.) And then there’s Bernie Madoff and so many others—from athletes to other ponzi schemers—who cheat the system to get ahead, to collect riches, to garner fame.

The prize? The sprawling homes; the expensive, flashy watches; the boats; the parties; the flashy cars; and, of course, the fame and the (false) admiration of society that comes with being a huge “success”.

Think about it: Lance Armstrong wouldn’t be a household name today if he had come in 23rd in the Tour de France. He wouldn’t have become a celebrity of his own, dating stars like Sheryl Crow, becoming the poster boy of top brands, and gracing numerous magazine covers. He wouldn’t have started Livestrong (and some could argue, he wouldn’t have helped so many people with cancer). Our society celebrates the winningest (that is a word), not the losers.

And that focus is partly to blame for the eagerness by so many to get ahead at all costs.

But where’s our internal sense of morality? Have we completely lost it in modern America? Was there no one in these people’s lives to show them that cheating is just plain wrong? Is there no one in their lives now who can show them the “right” way? Or am I just being naïve—not getting the way things really work in this world. Maybe.

One psychologist, Nigel Barber, Ph.D., has said that “Cheating is a way of life.” Even Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying: “Money, not morality, is the commerce of civilized nations.”

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s our country—with its definition of success as wealth and so-called fame—that’s partly to blame. It’s also the media that pounces on a story of David overcoming Goliath (e.g. Lance overcoming cancer and then going on to win seven titles; Manti overcoming horrible personal circumstances to help Notre Dame become a winner; Bernie Madoff rising from a humble Queens upbringing to become a Wall Street “success”).

That, and there’s a disturbingly pervasive belief in our society that we’re entitled to grab what we want, now, no matter whether it’s right or wrong, good for the environment, good for our family, good for our health…the list goes on.

So, do we just throw up our hands and say that’s the way it is? I have a somewhat more optimistic opinion that we can change, but it has to begin at the beginning.

We must start with our children: we must teach them that grades (and sports trophies) aren’t the be-all-and-end-all. Parents push their children to have top grades and win top honors: I can understand this. We want our children to do well, to succeed, to have the right opportunities in life. But this puts inordinate pressure on our children to get ahead at all costs. No wonder we hear about cheating scandals in schools: these schools are a microcosm of our society. That’s where it all starts.

But take away the pressure to achieve—and getting ahead at all costs becomes less important. Teach our children to love what they’re doing and to do their best, even if that best doesn’t bring top honors or awards.

Above all, though, we must teach them to hold sacred a sense of morals, a belief that—at the end of day—how we live our lives, how we treat other people and the world we live in, is what really matters. We need to get back to an internal sense of right and wrong. It’s pretty simple, actually. There aren’t a lot of grey areas when it comes to morality. As Mahatma Gandhi put it: “Morality is the basis of things, and truth is the substance of all morality.”

Bottom line: You can’t take fame, fortune, and riches with you when you’re gone (we’ve heard that so many times), so what good is spending your entire life working toward something that may make you feel good temporarily, but is an empty, hollow pursuit? Now that’s a question I’d like Oprah to ask Lance in her interview.

A Mother’s Instinct

Written by: on Sunday, May 13th, 2012
10-day old baby mouse

This little guy is about as big as the tip of my thumb!

Friday night, we found this little, shivering orphan mouse baby—no mother around! My husband wanted to leave it outside (where it would have surely died); I couldn’t do that. My heart melted when I saw this little thing. His eyes aren’t even open yet. So I set it up on a heating pad, covered with little cloths, in an unused glass aquarium…and set upon the task of feeding him baby formula out of my hand every three to four hours. Keep in mind that I’m up anyway feeding my own baby, so I’m not setting an alarm to do this! (I found a great site on how to care for it, www.thefunmouse.com/info/orphanedmice.cfm.)

He’s survived two days so far! If he survives, long term, I have no idea what I’m going to do with it. I take it one day at a time! The kids think he’s cute and love to watch me feed him. (And they tell me they’re sad that he doesn’t have his mommy.)

And for those of you who have followed our animal baby stories, our baby chickens—sadly—did not hatch.

(Note: My husband went out yesterday and came back with a whole slew of new mouse traps, muttering about rodents.)

Just curious what you would have done….tell me!

Update: December 11, 2013: “Mister Mouse” as my kids call him is a member of the family. He’s alive—and thriving. And every night when I come to check on him, I call him and he comes to greet me at the side of his cage/home. My husband still won’t acknowledge the “rodent” as he calls it, but he has—on occasion—admitted that he’s “a little bit cute”. But the kids love him—and say that I’m his mommy. And I guess, in a way, I am!

A letter to my son…about respect

Written by: on Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Boy on Beach

I wrote this letter to my older son when he was younger—after one too many questions from him about the newspaper headlines featuring all the killings that are happening in our crazy, messed-up world. That, and I start crying whenever I read about violence to children and babies (particularly newborn babies being thrown in dumpsters—when so many people would give so much just to welcome them into their own homes). What’s happening to immigrant babies and children—having been taken away from their parents and put in detention centers probably never to see them again—makes me cry and lose sleep at night. What has happened to our country and our world? Now my son is older and my youngest son keeps asking questions about the polar bears and the arctic: “When is the ice going to be all gone, Mom?” He told me that he can’t wait until he’s 32 and can be president to help “save the earth.” No matter what your political leaning or religious affiliation, these words and lessons hold true for everyone.

Dear A.C.,

It’s becoming harder and harder to explain to you why someone has just been killed.

Most recently, it was Trayvon Martin, a boy not too much older than you. “Why did that guy have to kill him, mom?” you asked after reading the newspaper headlines. I didn’t know how to respond, but the truth is: I don’t know why. I don’t know if anyone really knows why.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about it—and I realize there is a reason why killing and violence against babies, kids, and people of all ages is happening so much more these days.

We live in a disposable society, where many people believe that just about everything (including people) can be tossed away…like the stuff you throw in the garbage. I know it will make you cry (it makes me cry), but sometimes people even throw babies in the garbage. Kind of hard to believe that someone could do that, right?

But the reason why people do these things is they’ve lost something called respect—for life, for people, for things. I’m not sure where or when this happened exactly, but I want to teach you about respect so you can think and act differently as you get older.

That’s why I put together these 9 simple ways to learn respect. By following these, you—in turn—will get other people to respect you, which is the ultimate gift.

1) Treat yourself with respect. You can’t respect someone else and their life if you don’t love yourself and your body. Celebrate who you are and what makes you unique, even if people say mean things about you. That time when the kid in the lunchroom laughed and told you that you had really weird curly hair? Forget him. You’ve got great hair! You should never feel bad about your hair…or yourself. Treating yourself with respect also means wearing clothes that you love (like that homemade tie-dye shirt you insisted on wearing on your school picture day), eating foods that are good for you (yes, even those lentils that I make), and saying no to those things we talked about called drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. They’ll make your body sick.

2) Always clean up after yourself. Remember when we went hiking and you asked why someone had thrown his soda can by the trail? Litter is just one example of how people don’t clean up after themselves anymore; they expect others to clean up their messes. When they get bigger, these same people run companies that litter in even bigger ways—leaking bad stuff into oceans that kill the fish and into the air making it difficult for some people to breathe. So the next time I ask you to clean up your plate after dinner, remember why this is so important. And maybe one day, you’ll even run your own company—one that shows respect for the world around it by cleaning up after itself.

3) Treat animals with kindness. I know you love your puppies and your beetles and your pet frog. Never lose this love for animals. Always show respect for them: it’s been said that someone who treats animals well will show respect for people, too.

4) Don’t forget the truffula trees. One of your favorite stories has always been The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (long before it became a movie). Taking care of the world around you—like those truffula trees—is about taking care of the trees and grass and forests and oceans. This is why we recycle our newspapers and bottles and plastic containers. We’re doing it so that stuff doesn’t end up in the landfill (which is essentially a giant pile of garbage with some dirt thrown on top to hide it). Treat the environment around you with respect and you’ll be able to hike in it, kayak on it, swim in it, and enjoy it for many years to come.

5) Recognize that everyone is different. You’ve got your curly blonde hair, your sister has brown hair, and your dad has no hair (like your baby brother). In just one family, we’re all different: that’s the way it is in your school, our town, our country, and our world. And just because someone is different—in the way they look, they way they dress, the way they speak, the people they hang out with, or the religion they believe in—doesn’t mean they’re weird or bad or even worse, need to be killed as some people think. Accept them for who they are, let them do what they do (and you continue to do what you do). And that will make me proud.

6) Respect those who are older than you. You know your great grandma and grandpa, who are 95 and 96? They’ve been around a long time and they deserve a lot of respect—as do moms and dads. But many people don’t respect those who are older than them anymore; in fact, sometimes, as we read in the news, they call them bad names, forget about them, beat them up, take money from them, and do bad things to them. Kind of hard to believe that anyone could do that to a grandma or grandpa, right? But they do. That’s just an example of how completely crazy our world has become. Please always do what you can to protect the grandmas and grandpas of this world.

7) Always work hard. There is no way to “earn” easy money. You work hard now cleaning up your dishes, being nice to your sister, and helping around the house—and you should continue to work hard throughout life. Respect the value of hard work; so many people don’t today. They think they can do nothing and earn lots and lots of money (sometimes in ways that are not honest or nice). The end goal shouldn’t be about getting more and more money, but about doing what you love and always doing the right thing. You’ll never regret that.

8) Take care of your stuff. We toss our things away so quickly today that we barely have time to enjoy them anymore. People like your great grandma and grandpa used to take care of their belongings and, as a result, they kept them for a really long time. But now, things break easily or people get bored with them—and then most are just tossed in the trash…just like we watched in The Story of Stuff (http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/). Taking care of your (and other people’s) stuff—being careful with it so it doesn’t break, putting it away after you use it and, if it’s someone else’s, asking them to use it (instead of just taking it)—is how to show respect for things.

9) Finally, always, always respect life. You have one beautiful, awe-inspiring life ahead of you—live it to its fullest. And respect that everyone else has a right to live a long life, too. You can never get it back once it’s gone.

Those are my lessons. If you—and everyone—could learn these lessons early on, and put them into practice every day, the world would be a much safer, healthier, and happier place.

Love you lots and lots,


A few thoughts on why change is good…

Written by: on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Winds of Change quote for valerielatona.comWe all fear change: we get so used to the path we’re plugging away on (sometimes mindlessly)…that sometimes we get scared when we’re forced to divert to a different path or do something different. My advice: don’t fear it. It’s life’s way of gently guiding you to what you should be doing. And chances are: you may just be happier in the long run. A few bits of advice on change in your life.

1) Listen to your body, to your gut, as you go through life. That nagging feeling that sometimes causes you to lose sleep or get a “pit” in your stomach? That’s your gut telling you about what you’re doing or where you should be going. Listen to it: it’s your body’s built-in compass.

2) Things happen for a reason. It’s so hard to understand this when you’re in thick of things, but—like it or not—life has a plan for us. And sometimes we need a good shake up to get to where we’re supposed to be going in life. That could be a health scare that lands us in the hospital (because we need to be living healthier) or a job upheaval that puts you on the unemployment line. (How many stories do we hear about people who were fired from a job…and then went on, as a result, to start a successful business following their life’s passion?)

3) You have nothing to fear. The worst that can happen with change is “failure”, but “failure” can be defined in each person’s mind differently. Success isn’t necessarily defined as a big ol pot of money at the end of the road. In my mind, as long as you’ve learned something along the way, you’ve succeeded!